ARC Review: The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

17910048e-ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review

Summary:

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Review:

I admit it: when I first started to read this book, I did not got it. The formality of the language (if there are more than a dozen uses of the pronoun “I” in this book I will be shocked) tottered on the brink of being of too much and I wasn’t certain it wasn’t even necessary. I felt cut-off from the narrator. It was a book that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to finish.

But then I kept reading.

And reading.

And then I had my epiphany: This is all completely, 100% intentional on the part of the author. The author wants you to be as isolated as Maia. And in that understanding, my entire view of this book changed.

The formality of language made perfect sense. Of course everyone around the Emperor is not going to use his given name (nor even does Maia; there are even fewer uses of it in conversation than “I” instead you’ll see the honorific Serenity several times a page), and of course everyone is going to carefully guard their words. Of course Maia is going to feel lost and confused and alone and worry about saying the wrong thing or breaking a custom that he is woefully ignorant of. Maia’s plight is the reader’s plight. I honestly cannot recall the last time I felt so close with the narrator even as I felt so distant. There is masterful use of third person limited here. Maia’s world, and indeed the reader’s world, rarely extends beyond the walls of the given room that he’s in. He once or twice ventures out to palace grounds and once to market, but as Emperor he is caught in gilded cage, and so too is the reader.

History has stories of men and women thrust upon the throne that were never meant to ascend. This book gives us a keen idea of what that might be like. The book doesn’t have Maia fight any grand wars, and he doesn’t come out of the book as some kind of hero for the ages, but all of his small triumphs feel like yours and it’s easy to feel as pleased as he does when towards the end you can tell he’s starting to get the hang of it.

This is a fantastic, unique piece of fantasy that deserves to be read by any lover of good books, even non-fantasy fans. Addison clearly put time and care into her world, but her themes are universal enough that Elves could just as easily be the English and the Goblins the French or the Elves a stand in for Protestant and the Goblins the Catholic. Maia is The Other trying to navigate a court that, though born into it is foreign to him. It’s a struggle we can all understand.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: April 1st

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